What are we learning in the COVID-19 pandemic times?
EAO Region, 23 March 2020 -- We all - humanity - are going through very special times: with more than 380,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and some 16,500 dead, now the novel Coronavirus is spread across more than 185 countries or territories, and this global pandemic is shaping life all around the world. Without exception, no Salesian or Salesian Family members too are no exception - including some senior Salesians in Europe who passed away due to this contagious sickness, then there has been the closing of many schools or other education centres on all continents. And Pope Francis shared in his straightforward way in an interview with the Italian daily newspaper 'La Stampa' that 'COVID-19 teaches us we are one human community!"
Today we offer the last day of the extraordinary Novena to Mary Help of Christians and we may ask how to face these special times in history, that affects and overwhelms millions of people. If we look around us, we may notice many different attitudes or actions: Solidarity and compassion? Isolation or distancing? What is our attitude, how do we live through these difficult times?
We follow the basic necessary preventive measures to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus, that reached almost all EAO countries, even Papua New Guinea announced just yesterday large preventive measures.
We are praying: The extraordinary Novena to Mary Help of Christians (March 15-24) is just one of the many prayer movements in our Salesian Oratories (On-line oratorian prayers in the Philippines), ADMA members are most active in organizing Rosary sessions (Timor Leste, Philippines, PNG) and each one of us has probably more time to listen to God, to pray with more calm and depth.
We are getting locked down or quarantined as whole countries (the largest Philippines island of Luzon with 65 million of population), as cities or as individuals. The experience of the GC28 delegates really speaks loudly. While only 4 EAO delegates are still stuck at Valdocco (PGS and TLS confreres), they follow a special timetable that includes also common reading of the "Memoirs of the Oratory" just on the staircase at the middle of the courtyard of Valdocco. While the confreres of Vietnam are secluded in one government facility in Ho Chi Minh City (with other 50 people) and delegates of Myanmar are enjoying their rooms in one military supervised facility in Yangon, all the rest from other 8 provinces just simply follow the rules of the two-week long self quarantine in their respective houses. Even the Chofu novitiate (this year no novices!) became the quarantine for the 3 Japan chapter members. Some of them take advantage of these weeks for their spiritual retreat or for calm prayer and reflection time (evaluation and planning) slowly digesting the GC28 experience.
We are suffering and listen with compassion to the daily news, that bring daily large numbers of new cases and new death, especially in Europe. The Western European countries suffer a lot, first among them Italy. Among the death are also not a small number of Catholic priest and also some senior Salesians. All around the world the poor people are the first to suffer the impact. But the times of suffering bring out also the best of volunteers and solidarity. It's nice to receive the requests from our Chinese Past Pupils who are looking for the ways how to donate some needy masks to the countrymen of Don Bosco, simply beautiful!
We can see also many people still panicking (like Indonesia, where the virus comes only very recently or Australia with the lack of basic items in the supermarkets), we can witness also a strong sense of humour (like the SDB Logo adapted for the pandemic times, attached below) in order to raise the spirit, we witness so much creativity online (FB pages, video-events). We go online as never before in the evangelization or education field, with children and youth catechism online and school or University courses going online. Even the PGS vice-province consultation is going on in these days completely online due to the travel restriction in the Pacific.
Many wonder, what will happen after the pandemic crisis? Indeed many major events are being postponed or even cancelled (also the EAO Regional Congress of Salesian Cooperators, to be held next July 2020) and the sense of insecurity may over helm some people. Listening to Pope Francis may help many to find the right 'mood'. He addresses the consequence of the pandemic for our future: "The current crisis will help to remind us “once and for all, that humanity is a single community”... It will teach us that “universal kinship” is important and critical. We should think about it like a “post-war” phenomenon: “It will no longer be ‘them’. It will be ‘us’. Because we can only come out of this situation together ... “We will need to look even more closely at our roots: our grandparents, the elderly”. We will need “to build true kinship amongst us".
Mary Help of Christians, continue to show yourself especially in these days as Mother of the Church and Mother of suffering humanity!